The EAT has held that terminating the employment of a Christian teacher over her refusal to end her marriage to a headteacher convicted for sexual offences amounted to unfair dismissal and indirect religious discrimination.
Mrs Pendleton’s employment was ended from her teaching post following her husband’s convictions for voyeurism and making indecent images of children. Mrs Pendleton and her husband both worked at different establishments, she also had an exemplary record. The school at which she worked dismissed her on the basis that she had elected to maintain her relationship with her husband following his convictions. Mrs Pendleton argued that as a practising Christian her marriage vows were sacrosanct, they had been made with God and as such they were an expression of her religious faith. It was accepted that Mrs Pendleton had no prior knowledge of her husband’s wrongdoings.
The Employment Tribunal held that Mrs Pendleton had been unfairly dismissed but her claim for indirect religious discrimination failed. Mrs Pendleton appealed the decision and the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) allowed her appeal to succeed on the basis that the Employment Tribunal had failed to give proper consideration to the question of particular disadvantage to the claimant.
The EAT held that on the facts Mrs Pendleton was placed at a particular disadvantage by the school’s policy of dismissing those in her situation and that there was no justification for the dismissal, as those sharing the Mrs Pendleton’s religious beliefs would suffer a disadvantage and an additional moral dilemma in making a decision to divorce a Partner. Hence the indirect discrimination suffered by Mrs Pendleton was unlawful.
Indirect religious discrimination can take place when a workplace rule, practice or procedure is applied to all workers, but disadvantages people who hold a particular religion or belief. In some limited circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is necessary for the business to operate.
Whilst the circumstances of this case are unusual, the issues concerned still serve as an important reminder for employers to tread with caution towards an employee on account of their untoward associations with a family member/partner .
If you require any advice in relation to conducting disciplinaries or on any of the issues discussed in this article, please do not hesitate to contact our employment team on 0115 988 6211